- Delta community, Oko Amakom, is an abandoned community by the Delta state government, though it produces enormous food in the state
- It has only experienced government presence in 2005 after a rural electrification project was executed by a former member of the state house of assembly
- The community secondary school is in dilapidated state with broken roof and dirty staff offices
- The community elders say they are isolated and abandoned to determine their own future and survival
In our continuous effort to investigate community developments in Delta, on Tuesday July 18, our NAIJ.com reporter visited Oko Amakom, a community in Oshimili south local government area of Delta state. Days prior to this day, our team was at Omelugboma, another rural community in the state. The visit exposed the abandonment of the communities by the government of the state.
To indicate their seriousness, the traditional ruler of the community, HRM Odimegwu Nwanze, gathered the community chiefs to the palace.
Our reporter had visited three days earlier but he said though the visit was of importance to the community, he needed to inform all the chiefs, hence, a new day was fixed to allow the community chiefs make input into the discussion. This took the tour of the area to Tuesday, July 18.
And on the agreed day, the community chiefs gathered and it was visibly clear, they were angry and they unburdened their minds to our reporter. Many of them abandoned their farms, because to them it was a business worth doing.
It may have, perhaps, been the first time a journalist may be visiting the area considering the location, an outskirt of the state capital, not connected to any major town, except the state capital whose leadership has abandoned them to their fate.
There are three Oko communities arranged in linear order, making the Oko kingdom. They are Oko Amakom, Oko Anala and Oko Ogbele. The three communities are situated along the bank of the River Niger.
Any season the river overflows its bank, the communities are submerged and the residents must flee to the state capital for refuge. That was the case in 2012 when the flood submerged many communities along the bank of the Niger across the country.
The three communities are almost not considered in the distribution of projects by the Delta state government despite having representative in the state house of assembly. There are schools but they are less likely reckoned with among schools in the state. The secondary in Oko Amakom, which the community chiefs said the local government chairman, Chuks John Obusom attended, is in a deplorable state.
Our reporter was guided to the school by two chiefs from the community, Chief Nwanze Nwanji, who is said to be the Uti of Oko Amakom and another chief, who is identified as Gabriel.
In a guided tour of the school, our reporter saw leaking roofs, dilapidated windows, broken doors, roofs pulled off by wind, broken ceiling boards, dirty chairs, overgrown school fields and waterlogged assembly ground.
The sight of the environment makes learning difficult as assimilation in such an environment becomes a task most impossible.
Our reporter was told that the chairman of the local government attended the Oko Mixed Secondary School but the community chiefs expressed dissatisfaction with the attitude of the local government chairman to the plight of the school.
To them, the chairman has failed them, alleging that he never visited the community, insisting that he only visits when he has personal issues to attend to and not after the welfare of the community.
As our guide moved round the community, it was time to access the primary school. But accessing the classrooms in the primary school proved impossible as the whole compound was waterlogged.
The primary school with only one block with six classrooms, it was learnt that they keep nursery 1 and 2 pupils in one class, and primary 1 and 2 pupils in another class.
Our reporter observed that all the government school renovations done by the former governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, during his tenure as governor for eight years, the schools in the area were not visited.
During the eight years of Uduaghan, many schools in the state were renovated while some fenced, but Uduaghan abandoned the area to their fate.
Hence, it was learnt that since 2005 when the rural electrification project was executed by a former house of assembly member, Monu Olarewanju, no government presence has been felt in the community.
The sorry part of the situation for the community dwellers, however, is that since more than 90 percent of the teachers in the government schools are from the town, the children most times go for days without learning when the rains get serious.
According to Chief Francis Odita, another community chief: “For both the primary and secondary schools, we only have about three or four teachers who are indigenes and resident in the community.
“Most of them come from other towns, especially Asaba. By the time it gets to September, you will see that these children will sometimes be made to go days without learning because there is no road for their teachers to come to school.
"If the road were good, most of the teachers have bikes and vehicles they can use to come in, but when the whole road gets flooded, even bikes refuse to run the roads. The only way out and in by then is by boat where people have to pay N100 to be ferried through the water.”
They, however, observed that the dearth of government projects in their area was not a result of marginalisation in terms of political offices, as the community and nearby communities have sons in notable political offices in the state.
They pointed fingers at Barrister Chuks John Obusom, the chairman of the local government area, who hails from the nearby Oko-Anala but is yet to do even one project for the community.
They complained bitterly that despite having large rice farms in the community, even the farmers are yet to benefit from any empowerment or support programme from the government, and even the youths are not included in the empowerment programme of the state government.
The community health centre which might have come as a relief, being fairly equipped with the basics, it was another story altogether as NAIJ.com with the community chiefs arrived the centre. Our reporter, with the chiefs, was stunned to walk into the health centre and meet a completely empty reception with no health personnel on ground. It was opened to thieves and all sorts of hoodlums who might hatch the thought of mischief.
The chiefs who took this reporter on the tour had to go round the vicinity searching for any worker, and only saw a lady who was, with her dressing, not a health official.
The lady, in an attempt to save the face of the health personnel, unaware of whom our reporter was because he was not introduced to her, explained that the matron and midwife had gone to Asaba, the capital, to submit some documents, adding that they were called by their superior to leave the health centre and report to Asaba.
The chiefs, who were embarrassed, saw the excuse as not only flimsy but unacceptable, given the fragile nature of life especially in emergency situations when a patient could be rushed in and the consequence could be disastrous when no medical personnel is on ground. The situation was seen as an obvious result of the absence of monitoring, and more appalling given the fact that it was the only government health centre in the community.
All these are issues in the community, despite the fact that during elections, they vote massively at various polling units with the belief that such votes could bring succor to them. But, according to Chief Nwanrodi Edmondi, another titled chief in the community, days of election are declared as no-farming and no-fishing days for the residents.
He said: “This is a farming and fishing community, but on the days of election, we send the town crier to announce that nobody should go to farm but everybody should go out and vote. We organise a means of carrying the elderly ones to the polling units where they are allowed to vote first before the younger ones.”
He expressed anger mixed with sadness, noting that since May 2015 after the swearing in of the present state government, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has forgotten them after manipulating them to win election elections. They also faulted the senator representing Delta north, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, as also one of the people who disappointed and abandoned them to their fate.
“Governor Okowa has forgotten us. We thought that this governor that is from Agbor not Urhobo will do us good but not one day has Okowa sent a thank you to us for voting him into power. Nwaoboshi is there, we don’t know what he is doing with our constituency fund. The local government chairman is from this area, we don’t know what he is doing.
“The local government chairman avoids coming home because the road is not good. As they are leaving office, they bring their cronies to take over from them. The last government project done in this area was rural electricity in 2005 by Monu Olarewanju when she was in the house of assembly. After that, we have not seen government again. We only know there is a government, but we have not seen the government neither have they seen us.”
He said: “Most of our people avoid coming home during the rainy season because of the nature of the roads. Even now, the road is still fair to use. By September, we would have to use canoes to move from this village to Asaba.”
Visiting the Oko communities is no doubt a cause for worry as the people appear cut off and isolated from Delta state. Starting from the signboard along Asaba-Onitsha expressway, which gives direction to all the Oko communities under the Utchi clan, the road which normally gives a bumpy ride has been rendered inaccessible due to heavy downpour.
The roads which link the communities to Asaba have been in the same situation for so long a time. The road is one of the many sorrows of the people, in addition to the fact that for the past 12 years they have not felt the presence of government in the state. They have existed as orphans, children without parents, without government and abandoned to determine their own survival and future.
They are only remembered when it’s time for election. Its importance during elections cannot be over emphasized. Due to their abandoned nature, politicians easily manipulate votes there to increase the number of votes in the city, thereby scoring unimaginable number during elections to beat rival parties.
Another chief, Chukwuweze Nwanmor told NAIJ.com that after “we have massively given them votes more than even the capital territory Asaba, they fade away till the next election. Not even an official vote of thanks. Not even a single visit from any government official. Nothing to show that they even have us in mind. There has not even been any borehole project done for us. The few ones you see in the community are done by individual efforts.”
With roads being a basic necessity, the state of the roads has affected every other part of their communal life. Being a farming and fishing community, the Oko indigenes are heavy farmers of rice, maize, plantain, yam, cassava, melon, various vegetables and fruits, but the state of the roads is a turn off for them. As a result of this, the chiefs said they are left with no option but to transport their farm produce to Onitsha market using boats.
“When the rains get heavier, the River Niger overflows and connects with our lake here, so we use boats to transport our things which we harvest from our farms and take them to the market at Onitsha for trade. In this community, we are major producers of rice.
"If you buy Oko rice from the market, it is very nice and free from both sand and stone. Even our yam and plantain are very good and big, but the irony is that after taking it to Onitsha to sell, people from other parts of the state including Asaba will go there to buy the same foodstuff at higher prices.”
At a time like this when various state governments are working hard to ensure food security in their states, it is surely not a smart move for the smart government of Delta to allow food to be shipped out of the state only to have them re-purchased at higher prices.
The chiefs appealed to the government to remember the Oko communities which have never failed to give them support during the elections. They pointed out that the elections would soon come again, and that the best form of campaign in the community is to attend to their basic needs, so that they could come out to vote with joy in their hearts.
“Local government elections are coming up, and even soon enough the state elections will also come and they will come again to tell us to vote for them. This time, we are waiting for them.”
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When contacted, the local government chairman, Chuks John Obusom, agreed with the issues raised by the people but said for him to react fully, he needed to see the journalist he was talking with on phone but at the time of filing this report he was not in the state.
Hence, he told our reporter who contacted him on phone: “I don’t grant interviews on phone, whoever I’m granting an interview I see the person face to face. If you want to talk with me, come to the office, we will sit down and talk. I should know whoever I’m talking with. Right now, I’m not in town, in a week’s time I will be in the office. God bless you,” and hung the call.
Our reporter also contacted the commissioner for basic and secondary education, Chiedu Ebie. Ebie commended NAIJ.com for visiting the area and bringing the state of the school to light.
The commissioner, who was also contacted on phone like the chairman of the local government, added that the state government has made plans for the school.
He said: “Thank you for your observation, we have noted it down. We are going to do some works in Oko mixed secondary school. We discussed it yesterday in our meeting with the governor, thank you.”
Meanwhile, NAIJ.com had previously reported that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state allegedly ordered the release of the sum of N350 million for the celebration and welcome party of ex-convict and former governor of Delta state, Chief James Ibori.